4th September 2018 – Colca Canyon

I get a nasty surprise this morning. The lodge only has hot water when the sun is up, so I have to depend on the icy cold to warm up. At least we get a nice surprise at breakfast – instead of eggs and bread like we’d been expecting, it’s pancakes with dulce de leche, which is kind of the South American equivalent of nutella – only it’s a caramel sauce rather than a chocolate spread. They LOVE it here.

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We have a late start this morning, not heading out until 9:30. Today we have to head up for about 60 minutes, and then it’s downhill again, so it’ll be our test for tomorrow. As it turns out, the first 20 minutes or so aren’t nearly as bad as I expected. I keep a good pace the whole time near the front of the line, so when we make our first stop 30 minutes in, I’m quite confident.

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We’ve stopped at a small family-run museum that shows what life is like in the canyon. It includes a collection of farming tools, clothes, toys, and typical offerings to the mountains. It also has a collection of different corns and potatoes (turns out, there’s 2,350 types growing in Peru), and alpaca fur to touch. It runs on donations, and has an assortment of food, water and souvenirs to buy. I’m smitten with this beautiful condor embroidered purse bag, but I don’t have the money to justify buying it, especially since I know I’ll never use it.

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The next leg of our journey is a lot steeper, and it takes a lot more effort to keep up with our guide – who eventually has the fast members of our group go on ahead while he waits for the others. Thankfully, by 11:45 we’ve cleared the uphill, and hit the flat section, giving us a chance to catch our breath.

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We also come across the canyon’s ‘supermarket,’ which is near an exporting road and thus has cheaper prices than everywhere else in the canyon. We’re warned to buy breakfast and water for tomorrow here – because we’ll be leaving early. We also indulge in cheap crisps, and a collection of fruit, including something called granadilla, which is known as the sweet passion fruit, and looks almost identical with only a difference in colour.

20180904_160817After this, we’re heading downhill for 40 minutes to reach our oasis accommodation, ‘Cielo Azure.’ I speed a little ahead, just behind our two hiking powerhouses, and just appreciate how incredible this place is. I know Peru is beautiful, but Colca Canyon really brought it’s A game.

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Our meeting point is another bridge, and when we’re all together again, it’s just 20 more minutes before we arrive in our green haven for the night – which delights all of us by having a pool. Again, the rooms are very basic, stone walls with tin roofs and several beds, but the shower has some hot water which we didn’t expect, so that’s another bonus.
We all change for the pool, but before we dive in, it’s time for lunch again. Today it’s a pasta and potato soup (which is incredible), and fried potatoes with cheese, along with rice and (amazingly) some veg for the first time. This isn’t bad, but I only get a small piece of potato so don’t have enough to make an opinion on just how good it is compared to yesterday.

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Honestly, being able to jump into a pool after 2 days of moderate hiking is a godsend. The water is even slightly warm so it’s enjoyable to lie in and enjoy. We’ve only got about 2 hours to enjoy it though, before the sun goes down and our private accommodation gets set upon by the 2 day trekkers who started today. So before it turns 4, we’re all grabbing a shower and getting ready for the evening.

The new arrivals are people on the two day trek, and boy do they look exhausted.  Can’t say I’m surprised – yesterday had been enough trouble for most of us, I can’t even imagine what it must be like to do that section and then today’s in one go.  They’re all straight in the showers, and then down to the bar area, where all the guides quickly gather and start celebrating a birthday with quite a bit of alcohol.

(which really goes to show just how adapt the locals area at surviving here – they all have to guide dozens of far less capable tourists up a semi-sheer canyon tomorrow, but have no fear in getting drunk tonight).

Tonight was another bout of quinoa soup, which I really need to try and make at home, followed by what was probably my least favourite meal of the trip – spaghetti with a tomato sauce.  Very basic, and I felt for anyone doing the 2 day who missed out on our meal yesterday.

Finally, once the food was cleared and we’d finished playing exploding kittens and the other’s had grabbed their alcohol, we headed out of the bar and off to the grassy areas to do another bout of stargazing.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t really lie on the grass because the dogs would freak out and start investigating, but the views from the canyon are some of the most amazing I’ve ever seen.  The night sky here is almost a living being, full of colour and movement.  We spent a good hour just standing there and taking it in, far away from the bar and watching the constellations move.  To be honest, the only reason I was even able to move, was knowing I had to be up and ready to go at 5am.  That hike is going to be brutal.

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3rd September 2018 – Colca Canyon

I have so many alarms set – and yet it’s almost unnecessary. I barely sleep and all but jump out of bed when my first alarm hits. After a shower and a quick dress, I take another look at my bag and make some final adjustments before deciding it’s as good as it’s gonna get. Ironically, my speed to get ready was almost unnecessary – although my pickup said 3-3:30, I didn’t get picked up until 3:40, and I was only the third pickup. Regardless, once everyone was on board, we headed out of Arequipa, and to the canyon.
For my trip, I chose to go with Peru Andes 3 Day/2 night trip on FindLocalTrips.com. They also offered a 2 day trek that covers the same ground, but this one goes at a more relaxed pace, and I figure will be a good warm-up for Salkantay.

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It was about 6:30 when we entered the valley, and the sun blessed us with amazing views. It’s one of the greener areas of Peru I’ve seen, and the park is filled with small towns, still using the terraced gardens created pre-incan time to grow crops.
Our first stop is at a small building for breakfast, which we reach by driving up a dirt path we barely realise is a road until we’re on it. It’s a basic breakfast – a small portion of scrambled eggs and 2 Peruvian buns, which I admittedly am growing very fond of. I also get a chance to finally try coco leaf tea for the first time. Made from cannabis leaf, it’s supposed to help ward off the effects of altitude sickness – it also tastes quite nice.
When we get back on the road, it’s easy to just sit there and gawk. This is Colca Valley rather than the canyon, but between it’s immense walls, vivid greenery and landscape, and the domestic animals wandering the roads, there’s not much comparison in beauty.
We eventually stop at a lookout point for 40 minutes, as not only does it give give fantastic views of the canyon, but is also a great place to go condor spotting. We have a lot of luck when we arrive – in the first five minutes I spot 3 in the air, and later spot another 3 at different times. Impressive considering there are only 64 condors in the canyon on last census.

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At not long before 9:30, we pull into our final stop. There’s a toilet, small shop, and a woman selling bamboo sticks for 3 and 5 soles each. I spring for one with a crochet handle, and meet up with my fellow 3 day trekkers and our guide, Armando.
When we start, the altitude definitely has an effect. It’s been less than ten minutes but I’m already winded. Thankfully, today most of the trek is downhill, and this is what we’ll be looking at.
We’ll be walking about 7km today, about 3-4 hours, and since we’re finishing in Colibri Lodge in San Juan de Chucco, we can take as long as we like.

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Honestly, this takes more out of me than I expect. It was cold this morning, requiring 3 layers – but now it’s shot up to over 30 degrees. Even just going downhill is a major commitment – it’s so steep I’m slipping regularly, and everyone is stopping whenever we find shade to rest and drink.
However, after about 2 hours, I break ahead of the group to chase after 2 girls who’d gone ahead because the pace was too slow, and the final leg once you leave the mountain rock is torture. Every time you think you’re in the home stretch, it turns and you find five more twists to go!
Finally, at 12:30, I make it to the bottom by the bridge, where we need to meet and catch up with the other girls. I’m so happy get into shade, and grab a powerade from a woman selling drinks for 7 soles. Now we just need to wait for the others to catch up.
Twenty minutes later, one guy appears, and we keep waiting.
Fifty minutes later, our guide appears – the rest of our group is just a little slower.
In the end, it’s 70 minutes for the last of us to make it down – but the slower 3 choose to hold back, while we head to our accommodation for the night.
Going up in a new kind of hell, especially after resting for an hour. In five minutes my throat is raw, and my chest in burning. Going uphill is so much harder than I expected, especially in this heat. That said, with regular breaks of a few minutes I keep to the front of the line, and after 30 minutes we reach the lodge.

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We’re in very basic accommodation – 4 beds to a brick room and a thatched roof. However each bed is loaded with heavy blankets to offset the night cold – but before we relax, we can finally eat lunch.
For the first time in Peru, the portions are quite small, but still very good. We start with a quinoa soup, and finish up with alpaca meat stir fry and rice – which was so good but so small I could have happily eaten again.
Afterwards, we have about 4 hours to ourselves, and after showers, most people crash and sleep, while I wander around the immediate area and make friends with the local animals, such as Pepe the dog. I’m kicking myself for only bringing a few pieces of paper instead of a notebook, but make do and spend an hour writing before one of my fellow travellers brings out a deck of Exploding Kittens, and everyone gets really into playing it. At one point, we even make up our own rules for the picture cards to spice up the game, and it starts to get a tad crazy right before dinner comes out.

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Tonight, we have corn soup and a type of cheese curry, which is nice but not quite as good as lunch. The curry was interesting though – I never considered cheese as a curry option and wouldn’t mind learning how to make it myself.
Afterwards I’m getting ready to retire so I can enjoy a long night’s sleep, when I walk over to the sink in the darker part of the social area – and immediately rush back to get everyone. I completely forgot that since we’re miles from heavy civilisation, the night sky will be amazing. It dripping with stars, and we have a great view of the milky way popping out from the mountains.
It takes me a good 20 minutes to pry myself away from the painting in the sky. I really hope our next stop will have equally amazing views.
Tomorrow, we’re having breakfast at 7:30, and heading for the oasis at the bottom of the canyon at 8:30.

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31st August 2018 – Huacachina

Huacachina is only an 90 minutes from Paracas, and we’re leaving early, so I figure I’ll have a lazy morning at the hostel, attempt to upload my blog (again) and get lunch at Fido Lovo before we head off at 1pm. This doesn’t quite go to plan as the Kokopelli Wifi remains persistently erratic, but I do get to eat at my favourite restaurant again just before I have to head out. Today the dish is chancha a la caja china (which Google Translate essentially throws its hands up at), for 25 soles. Turns out to be a roasted pork dish, which is one of most beautiful things I’ve had plated in this country.

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It’s also delicious, the crackling is perfect and the flavour strong. I’m not sure what kind of potato is on the plate – it just looks like plain boiled potato, but there’s a very spicy kick to it.

Huacachina is a very unique place in Peru, as it’s the only oasis town in the country. Currently known as a sandboarding capital, it’s economy has taking a vicious downturn recently. In August an unliscened dune buggy crashed, killing two tourists and injuring several others. In action, the government has banned all dune buggy trips until they can figure out safety issues – which means most of Huacachina board and buggy companies are struggling to stay afloat.

More personally, like with many places in Peru, I’d booked a trip ahead of time, and now I’m constantly getting emails telling me the trip ‘might be cancelled,’ but never confirming it. This is problematic, especially since Peru Hop are offering a sandboarding alternative that I can consider, but I don’t want to book without confirmation.

I end up being given quite the runaround, until I’m finally told outside the meetup hotel that it is running, and to be there in half an hour. It’s been a hectic 40 minutes, which is frustrating because Huacachina is beautiful, and I haven’t had any time to walk around and enjoy it. Wish I had another day here, because it’s really charming.

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In Huacachina, I decided to treat myself a bit and try some ‘glamping’ – and staying at the Eco Camp on the outskirts of the main centre. It ended up being tricky to spot, there’s no signs and the whole area is cordoned off with bamboo walls. However, I’ve now got a tent with two double beds in it all to myself in a very nice little resort.

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Don’t have time to enjoy it though, because I have to run to the other side of the oasis for the sandboarding. Where I find pure chaos – and learn the tour IS cancelled, but I can hop onto one of these for a fee. At this point I just shrug my shoulders and say sure. The options are sandboarding for 20 soles, or snowboarding for 50. I go for Sandboarding, and once I’m given my board, our group of twelve heads up the side of the oasis to the nearest dunes.

Since this is more basic sandboarding, we don’t head up the highest dunes, but stick the smaller ones, although I’m regretting choosing to wear my hiking boots – I’m might as well be shovelling the sand into them, lord knows how I’m getting them clean.

Not the first time I’ve done boarding, so I’m one of the first ones down. Wax the board, drop to the floor, grab the handles and let your teacher push you down. It’s just as exhilarating as I remember it – and this time you have an added danger level if you can’t stop in time, another small oasis-type lake…that smells strongly of a septic tank!

Unlike my last sandboarding adventures however, these have an added twist. The handles also work at foot straps, and once we’ve gone down a few times, we’re given the option to try going down snowboard style. I eventually work up the nerve – but realise it’s just a tad different from snowboarding. Not helped by the fact that I keep trying to move said board like a snowboard…and having the velcro on my feet give way and send me crashing to the ground. It just won’t take the force I want to add to control the board.

I keep trying though, and I have a few tolerable runs with multiple crashes – but everything stops around 17:45, when everyone starts climbing up the dunes in order to watch the sunset over this crazy, sand kingdom.

Tragically, when I walk up and find my spot, I discover there’s been a casualty during the day. My camera has gotten sand in the lens and has wedged the shutters open, rendering it worthless. I’m gutted – my only hope is that somewhere in Arequipa can fix it before I head to Cusco and rely on my phone camera. Plus it means I have no way on recording this awesome sunset – I’ve never seen the sky go that shade of orange peach before!

It’s a really beautiful view, and I only reluctantly walk down when it starts getting hard to see. I have to head to Casa de Arenas for 6:30 in order to meet my current Peru Hop guide to learn about heading to Nazca. One of my big ticket plans for this trip was doing a flight, and since Peru Hop arrives too late to do them, the only option is either staying at extra day in Nazca (not recommended due to the lack of things to do), or take a shuttle bus in the morning and join up with the bus in the evening.

Our guide ends up showing up at 6:40 (‘Peru time’ is not known for being precise), and explaining the requirements. Two passengers who were interested decide they’ll stay a night in Nazca so they can stay in Huacachina and enjoy some more sandboarding, while I chose to take the shuttle for 50 soles. The guide then shows me how to book the flight online through FindLocalTrips, and recommends that I take the 11am flight despite my reservations. It’s supposed to be a 3 hour trip to Nazca and we’re leaving at 8:30 – but he assures me this is the one they recommend for passengers on the shuttle, so I go ahead and book the 25 minute flight for $84 US.

When I get back, it’s nearly pitch dark but the pool is still open, and a quick temp check tells me the water is warm enough to head in, so I decide to get rid of all the sand stuck to my skin in a more amusing way than a mere shower, and head on in.

The water is just warm enough not to be painful, and diving towards bright lights and feeling sand wash off is a glorious feeling. The only issue I have is the water is rather murky and it’s a multi-level pool, so I can’t always tell where the bottom is – my feet have a few painful bumps whenever I forget and brush them against the edge that marks the shallows.

After 30 minutes though, I decide it’s time to get rid of the last clumps of sand and have an actual shower, so head out to get a change of clothes. During which I realise one flaw in how this camp is setup – I’m on the second level, which has no stepping stones in the sandy surface. There is literally no way for me to get to my tent without stepping on sand. Which, when you’re wet from the pool or shower, is going to be a problem. That’ll be fun in the morning.

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30th August 2018 – Ballestas Island

I’ve booked to do the 10am Ballestas Island tour today, which means I get to enjoy a lie in and a leisurely breakfast before heading out. Kokopelli do an okay spread – essentially one portion of scrambled eggs (you need to tick your name off) and then unlimited bread rolls, tomato slices, butter, passion fruit juice, tea and coffee. Not a big fan of scrambled eggs, but it’s cooked well enough that I can’t complain.

You know, of all the things I thought I’d like in Peru food wise, bread was pretty low on the list, but they really know how to cook a decent roll. Yet to have one that wasn’t one of the nicest parts of the meal. I end up having 2 of their french rolls at breakfast alone.

The meeting point for the trip is in front of the La Frayes hotel, and you’re meant to be there 15 minutes early, so I head up just before then – the next Peru Hop has also arrived and the place is pretty busy with people hollering off names to get the lists – I make it just as a gentleman calls my name and get pulled to the side, and we head off five minutes later for the dock.

It’s extremely crowded with people waiting for boats, but we get to the front of the line and hop into a small boat with seats on each side, and head out of the harbour. Our guide is giving the tour in both Spanish and English, but he doesn’t start talking until we get to our very first stop on the Paracas Peninsula – the giant San Pedro Cactus.

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This odd shape carved into the sand is a tad mysterious, as no one knows exactly who drew it or how long ago. It’s essentially just drawn into the sand, but thanks to the nature of where it was drawn, it requires no upkeep. There’s no rain, and the salt from the water just hardens the salt, while the wind gets buffered by other parts of the landscape and doesn’t hit – however, this all means it’s next to impossible to date. There are two popular theories, either that it was drawn by the Paracan people – who predate the incas – as they highly cherished the cactus for ceremonial use (apparently it’s a halluginogenic), or it was made sometime in the fifteenth/sixteenth century by pirates needing a landmark to help them with their boats. This holds some water as the drawing does fit onto South/North lines.

It’s another ten minutes till we make it to Ballestas – and we stop midway when we get an awesome surprise in the form of a pod of dolphins diving around our boats. They were mostly on the right side – and as I was seated on the left didn’t see as much as I’d like – but I did catch a few on my side hopping through the water before they headed away.

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Ballestas Island is often referred to as a ‘Poor Man’s Galapagos’ due to it’s unique ecostructure. It’s home to sealions and multiple bird species, including the humbolt penguin, which is making a strong comeback after being on the endangered list. There was a small group of them on the side when we arrived.

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The island gets the name ‘Ballestas’ form the giant hold in the side of it. To fisherman, the hole looks a little like an archer pulling back. It was made a nature preserve in the 1970’s, and only sees a small amount of human interaction unlike the desert on land. Although there are manmade structures here, and a small crew stationed here to watch what happens, nobody is allowed to swim or walk on the island recreationally. Fisheman can come close, but otherwise the only exception is the bird guano collection, which is done every 7 years.

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The most prominent bird on the island is probably the paracan boobie, a bird with a similar shape and size to a gull. They teem on the first part of the island, and we were even lucky enough to see a small nest with babies as we coasted by. Another part of the island is coated with so many cormorants it’s turned the island black, and one solitary vulture stands to attention on one of the bridges, ready to clean up any dead birds and maintain health.

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There are also dozens of sealions dozing on the smaller rocks popping up around the inner radius. During pup season these seals normally find themselves on one of the red coloured beaches for birth, but the rest of the time they’re happy to hang around any rock they can find. Ballestas is great for them, because there are no natural predators in these waters – although they also have to tolerate water that is a tad too warm for them in the summer because of it.

It’s not somewhere I’d ever call beautiful – there’s not a single plant on the island, just rocks, sand and birds – but it’s clearly a lifeline for all these creatures, and works very well for them. It’s definitely worth the trip if you’re coming to Paracas.

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29th August 2018 – Paracas

I’m getting picked up at the ungodly hour of 5:30 this morning, so I’m grateful that I’m the only one in my dorm right now. However, its unbearably cold in my dorm tonight, and I never quite manage to nod off for more than an hour or two. I keep grabbing my phone and getting more and more frustrated when it’s been less than 20 minutes since I last checked.

Needless to say, getting up at 5 was childs play, and I had my bag packed and ready to go at 5:20. I was told Peru Hop will come to the door to get me, so I wouldn’t need to wait outside on the street (which frankly was a huge relief), but was grateful I had the additional ten minutes, because the gentleman manning ‘reception’ had an issue with my bill. He was wanting me to pay, despite the fact that I was certain I paid for three nights the first morning specifically to avoid this – and he didn’t speak English so we couldn’t quite work it out. It ends up with him calling the owner that speaks English (poor woman) to explain the situation, and I’m free to go just as Peru Hop comes calling.

I’m the second person picked up, so have my pick of seats – but end up slipping into the set behind my first choice when a pair sit in front of me and crank the recline all the way back and drastically reduce my space. As it turns out, just about everyone does this, so moving was pointless, and all I can do is recline my own seat to regain some room.

Our Peru Hop guide for the first leg is a gentleman called Renzo, who spends the trip to Paracas collecting our passports and confirming where we’ll be staying and if we’re doing the tour to Ballestas Island. I feel a little foolish – I’d seen the time the bus was meant to arrive and assumed that meant we wouldn’t get there in time to do it so booked it for tomorrow. At least I can do the free trip to Paracas Nature Reserve that runs at 11.

We roll into Paracas around 9:35, and it honestly looks exactly like what you think a tiny beach town in South America would look like. Every building is either are store, hotel or hostel, and there are signs everywhere offering tours or discounts on sights. Reminds me a little of when I’d got to Tenerife as a kid and see the slightly less expensive areas of town. On the plus side, everyone is friendly enough, and the sun is finally shining.


I’m spending 2 days in Paracas, and will be staying at the Kokopelli Hostel just a few minutes away from Peru Hop’s only stop in Paracas. I chose it mostly because it has a pool and after the island trip tomorrow, I intend to have a lazy day before I have to start worrying about all the hiking I have planned next week. My first impressions are definitely positive – it’s got a good vibe and a nice area in the back with a bar and a (slightly overpriced) restaurant attached.

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I head back to the bus for 10:45, and we head out for the Paracas Natural Reserve just after 11. This area is actually part of the same reserve hosting the Ballestas Islands, and the government isn’t elated – this area, much like the Bolivian Salt Flats, was once underwater, and as the seas reclined, it’s created a collection of different coloured sands…that exist above hoards of salt. The government would dearly like to mine it, but the special protections brought in during the 1970’s means they can’t, and we can continue to enjoy the area.

I’m mostly just fascinated by the amazing sand dunes, which come in just about every natural colour you can think of, and will just randomly pop up into a mountain in the middle of nowhere – I’ve never seen anywhere like it.

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Our first stop is The Cathedral, which in recent years has become a misnomer. Once the most photographed site in Peru, this rock formation took the appearance of a religious Cathedral out in the water, right up until the most recent earthquake in 2007, which saw the structure crumble into the ocean. People’s opinions on what it looks like now vary, but apparently gorilla is a popular one.

The second stop is the Peninsula, where we can overlook one of the area’s many beaches and the small fishing areas within the park, and then we head down to the beach itself. On the far left, cordoned off for protection, you can find the red sand beach. Thanks to this origin, the sand isn’t renewable, and is protected from harvesting in order to preserve it.

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Overall, the tour takes about 75 minutes, and we head back into Paracas for the early afternoon. By this point I’m starving, and although I hate eating at one of the fancier restaurants alone, I dig out tripadvisor to see if there’s anywhere that sticks out.

To my surprise, the restaurant just around the corner from Kokopelli, Lobo Fino, is ranked in the top 3. That’s enough for me to go check it out, and my interest rises when I see how busy the outside area is. On the wall there are 2 day menus, one for 25 soles and another for 15, and I sit down while desperately trying to translate the 15 sole menu before the waitress comes out. I don’t quite succeed, but she’s clearly used to stupid foreigners, because with pointing and charades I get an order down.

In the end I realise I’ve ordered some kind of chicken wing soup and chicken steak combo that comes with either classic or incan coke, which certainly sounds edible. It turns out to be even more than that when it arrives – the soup bowl is huge, and I would probably have been happy just eating that! It’s a soup with a creamy texture and filled with pasta circles, as well as a chunk of cobbed corn, and a chicken wing. It’s so filling that when my main dish arrives, I abandon the soup despite still having a fifth to go, just so I can get through my main.

I also order the incan cola, which I’m coming to love because it tastes a lot like a very sweet irn bru, and that’s a welcome thing in my world.

The main also solidifies my belief that 15 soles and above is the magic number, because this is amazing. The chicken is well cooked and juicy, and the deep fry is so well done it could give my favourite Scottish fish and chip shop some pointers. It has admittedly come with a healthy portion of rice and the creamed item (although i’ve since learned that’s probably corn, not potato), but I mostly ignore it to tuck into the chicken.

I end up having to leave about half the meal, but only because I’m SO FULL. I’m definitely coming here for the day menu tomorrow.

I also get talking with another Peru Hop woman who has been here 2 days already, and she recommends that I get on the ‘Sunset Shadows’ tour that runs in the evenings. This is a tour run by the desk at Kokopelli, and leaves at 3:30 to head into part of the reserve most people don’t go, and hike up the cliffs in order to watch the sunset. It is admittedly, 97 soles, but it sounds so good I decide I have to try it.

When I arrive an hour later for pickup, I also get the pleasant surprise in finding Garreth, one of the men from the walking tour in Lima I spent the day with, also on the tour. He’d arrived a few hours before and was staying at Kokopelli, so I’d have a chance to catch up.

Although the tour was meant to leave at 3:30, it ended up having a shaky start – barely getting out at 3:50, and having to go back because two passengers had shown up late and needed to be picked up, but eventually we were on our way to the park.

Frustratingly, this is where being part of Peru Hop doesn’t help. Although they cover the entrance fee for the park tour, they don’t give us any ticket to prove we’ve paid for entry. The Ballestas Island tour they recommend is also the same, so we have to pay an additional entrance fee for the tour. 11 soles for today, or 17 soles if they planned to come back tomorrow.

Before we start our hike, we come across a breeding ground of Paracan Flamingoes, and stop for a closer look. This bird is in fact the inspiration for the South American flag – unlike other flamingos, this bird is white, with bright red feathers on it’s bottom wings. We can’t get too close, but do get treated to them in flight when we accidentally startle them.

We also stop not far from the salt mines – which is one of the few places it’s legal to mine the salt here – and near where they drag the seaweed from the ocean to dry for sale, before heading up the hill in the wind and sun.

It’s not a sheer climb, there’s just a moderate incline, but it still takes more out of me than I want to admit. I’m relieved when we make it to the top, and we can start to take in the views from the cliffs.

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Incline included, we’ve got about 2km to walk in order to get to the ‘golden shadows’ area, and since it’s mostly flat, it’s easy sailing. Our biggest hold up was stopping to take awesome photographs along the edge, and one guy deciding to bring his drone out to play – and confusing the hell out of the local vulture population who couldn’t decide if it was a threat or food.

We spend so much time posing that when we make it to the spot, we’re given the choice of speeding down the mountain to watch the sunset from the yellow rocks near the bottom, or staying where we are – we choose to stay, and joy one of the nicest sunsets I’ve seen in a while.

Admittedly, the cloud bank meant we couldn’t watch the full thing, but it was a very close approximation, and well worth the hike. When the last slivers vanished from the horizon, we then learned that in order to get down, we’d have to take a…very…steep route down.

The route we took was actually the easier of 2! And still required me to hop into L stance and half skid down a chunk of it in order to get down. Definitely getting to give these hiking boots a good test drive, sand and steep inclines are no challenge to their grip…although the wind blowing in my face at speeds probably helped keep me upright too.

It takes close to an hour to drive back to Paracas after that, but I highly recommend the Sunset Shadows tour if you’re spending a night in Paracas – that sunset was definitely worth the price, and it certainly felt like a great way to finish up my first day.

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28th August 2018 – Lima

I had planned to spend the day exploring the Miraflores and photographing anything I found interesting, andn go check out the catacombs. However, when I wake up, it’s to a new discovery – a pair of red, rash-like rings around my ankles. Google search suggests it could be anything from ‘the Disney Rash’ to blood clots, but either way I need to try and treat it. I don’t really have any medication outside of aloe vera, but most websites recommend regardless of the issue, to keep my feet elevated over my heart. As such I spend most of the morning lying on a sofa in the communal area, trying to improve the circulation.

It definitely has an effect. Come the afternoon the redness has reduced significantly, and I risk heading out. My first point of call is a Tourist Information building I’d seen that offered advice on SIM cards, which is something I desperately need. The lovely Claudia directs me to Claro, which is just up the street.

This is like the Argos of phone shops. You have to go to a receptionist, who gives you a ticket number with what you want. Then you go to a waiting area and wait for someone to call your number. At this point, you pray they know some English, and if not, ‘prepaygo’ will get you a piece of paper with a list of prices. Since the arrival of Whats App, most travelers don’t need minutes, and Claro offer some very reasonably priced data plans – provided you can offer a foreign passport. I went for their largest one – 3gb for 30 soles, plus another 5 for the SIM. Then I needed to go to another counter to pay, then bring the receipt back to your server so they can install the SIM. I celebrated having a signal again by slamming open Pokemon Go, and managing to hunt down a region locked Corsola in a matter of minutes!

Afterwards, I decide I need to at least try to do something with my final day, and commit to using the buses to get to the catacombs at San Francisco church. You do have to buy a card for 5 soles to use it which is a little frustrating for short term travelers, but at least I knew I had a return ticket. The station you need for the Kennedy Park area is Ricardo Palma, but even though we’d used the bus with the walking tour, I found myself a tad overwhelmed when it came to getting myself there – especially since I couldn’t remember the station’s name. I knew it was on line C, but that was it. Spent a good five minutes hemming and hawing in front of a map and trying to make sense of it (internet was woefully inept at helping me navigate) when an English speaking security guard managed to tell me I wanted Jr de la Union station. 20 minutes later, I’m back in familiar streets.

…Or so I thought. I end up taking a wrong turn and ending up in a much different area. Not that I was complaining, I discovered an amazing building in another beautiful square along the way. I would have explored it more, but there were quite loud protests going on that I figured would be best if I avoid. I also found myself going down a busy street with dozens of ‘living statue’ performers, many of them quite impressive. One gentleman was made up like the genie in the lamp – complete with him floating from smoke into the lamp. These two were also quite impressive.

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Eventually, I made it back to the original plaza, and from there it was only a few minutes to the Church…where I encountered a bit of a problem. The catacombs are apparently…popular.

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I should have just turned round and left, but decided I’d try my luck. Three hours later, the sun is down, the temperature has plummeted, and I still have at least 2 loops of this insane line to go. When I calculate how far I’ve moved in fifteen minutes, I realise there’s still at least 90 minutes of waiting for me. Given that I have to take the bus back, and walk home alone, I’m not really wanting to risk going in for a 45 minute tour that late.

Then comes the trickiest part of my day, figuring out how to get home. It takes SO long for me just to figure out what stop I go to, because I would have sworn blind the one I went to was the one I arrived on, but when I finally pulled myself to the front to look at the map, it was a the South Bound station. Unfortunately, the station is so mobbed, that when a Line C bus arrived, a literal mob piled on – evening buses in Peru can give Japanese rush hour a run for it’s money. You are literally crushed between people with no room to move – thank god I’m not as claustrophobic as I used to be or I’d have been in serious trouble. It was so full it was actually difficult to get a good look at the station names before we arrived, a bigger problem than normal because the announcements in the bus weren’t working, but eventually made it back to Ricardo Palma.

Tomorrow it’s an early start. The Peru Hop bus picks me up at 5:30, and then it’s onwards to Paracas.

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27th August 2018 – Lima

Casa de Mochilero is probably best described as a tolerable hostel.  The beds are definitely not the comfiest or the warmest – they’re thin and hard, but I do manage to get some sleep.  And as an added bonus, the showers are piping hot…but there’s no breakfast so I’m on my own there.

This is less of a hostel and more a reconfigured flat, and it takes me some time to figure out how to pay since it’s hard to tell who actually run the hostel.  She thankfully also speaks some English, and gives me some tips on what to do today.  There’s a free walking tour of the downtown area happening not far from a place called Kennedy Park.  Unfortunately it’s a good 10 blocks away, and leaves in about 15 minutes, so it’s time for me to leg it.

It takes me slightly longer than 15 minutes to get there, but they’re waiting for stragglers so had plenty of time.  The waiting point is a hostel called Pariwana Hostel, and honestly I wish I was staying here.  It’s got such a great atmosphere compared to the aura at Casa.

Once we’re heading out, our first stop is the train station ‘Ricardo Palma’ in order to get to the downtown area.  The bus is 2 1/2 soles, which we pay to the guide so we can get in easier.  In order to use these buses, you need a yellow card which you buy for $5, but you can swipe for multiple people – so we were recommended to find a local and pay them 2 1/2 soles so we didn’t have to buy the card.

It’s several stops, and one transfer, but less than 20 minutes later, we’re out at the station, and splitting up into English and Spanish speaking tours, and turning the corner into a beautiful square.

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This is the Plaza Mayor, the centre of downtown, and home of the the Presidential building, which is currently undergoing the daily ceremony of Changing of the Guard.  This is a mostly superficial event, but one that always brings a crowd – for the first part, the band plays a variety of traditional and popular songs – a few weeks ago they were quite fond of playing Despacito – and then the guards begin their step sequence.

Although most of the buildings in the area are beautiful and appear traditional, none of them are from the founding of Lima.  The original buildings have all been destroyed throughout time, either through earthquakes or fire.  The oldest building in the square is the Cathedral on the left, which now works as a museum – the rest have all been rebuilt much more recently.

We then head down the road to the left of the Presidential building, and find the Basilica of Lima, built in 1535.  It’s one of the more important buildings in the country as it’s still a heavily Catholic country.  However, the Virgin Mary is considered a much more important figure than Jesus here, because when they were trying to convert the Incas, they used Mary as a replacement for Mother Earth, and the representation still stands strong.

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From here, we head onto the Post Office Alley, which was originally a building designed for postal services, but thanks to the rise in technology, it’s now become something of a Bazaar.  It also doesn’t have a roof, as the glass shattered in the most recent earthquake, and since rain is a very rare thing in this city, a roof isn’t that necessary.

Before we continue on, we have a quick rest stop, and our guide takes us halfway across a bridge and introduces us to one of the primary sources of water in Lima.  Since they never get rainfall, they are completely dependent on the rainy season causing overflowing rivers, though it certainly doesn’t look it right now.  It’s also heavily polluted thanks to how far the water has to travel, people living along the river polluting it, and illegal mining.  One of the many reasons you don’t drink the tap water in Lima – this is where it comes from.

We’re also warned not to cross the rest of the bridge into the next district – even the local are careful about walking through that area.  For tourists, only Miraflore and Barranco have the money and infastructure to be safe to travel around.

We’re back into the square at this point, and heading to the left in order to check out the next cathedral, Church of San Francisco.  I might be coming back here tomorrow, because it now functions as a museum, and access to the Catacombs, which was a surprise to me as I didn’t realise they existed in South America.  This area also has the House of Peruvian Literature, but it’s closed on Mondays so we can’t go in.

By 2pm, the tour finishes up at a Pisco stand with people sampling one of Lima’s most popular alcoholic drink, and people seperate.  Several of us however, are planning to do the afternoon tour of Barranco that starts at 3:10, so we figure we’ll go have lunch.  The guide had recommended a cheap place near the square that had a 12 sole day menu called Pacifico, so we tried to find it.

Turns out, there were two cafe’s called Pacifico – and we went into the the wrong one.  It took forever to get the cheaper day menu (first we got the main menu, then the secondary day menu at 20 sole, and then finally the 12 sole), and when we got the food…well…

Let’s just say absolutely no one finished their meal.  They were very mediocre, and a good chunk were inedible – someone even had a hair in their meal.  Lima is also very carb heavy – rice and potatoes rather than a carb and veg – so you feel rather bloated by the end.  Getting a sinking feeling that unlike Asia, you very much get what you pay for in South America.

When we head off to the Barranco tour, it’s back to the bus stop, and find ourselves on a very long trip – at least 30 minutes – to get from Downtown to Barranco, and get spit out at one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen.

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The sky is still a miserable grey, but that stubborn shard of light is doing a lot to improve things.  This is the road I used to get here last night, and how much I missed in the dark is incredible, it’s amazing.  This area also hosts a graffitti alley, which holds murals regarding the lifestyle in this bohemian neighbourhood, all the way to popular pieces from famous graffitti artists of Peru.

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The walking tour also heads across the Bridge of Sighs, which, if you hold your breath all the way across the very first time you walk it, will grant your wish, and after taking us down one of the wealthier streets, circles back to see the local church which has sadly become derelict thanks to fire.  It’s now mostly home to the black vultures that you can see literally everywhere along the coast.

When we make it back to the Barranco square, our guide recommends that we take the local bus for $1 – this isn’t the fancier train-like buses, but smaller minibus style vehicles that you can find all over.  I’m tempted, but several of the people I had lunch with have heard of a boardwalk along the shore you can take back to Miraflores, and I decide to take advantage of the crowd to check it out.

As it turns out, we either don’t find the boardwalk, or it’s highly over rated.  We spent most of the time walking a dirt path and trying to avoid tripping on anti-landslide netting.  By the time we reached ‘the yellow bridge’ landmark we were told to look out for, we were all ready to give it up as a bad idea since all light had officially vanished.

Instead, we walk back up the streets towards Kennedy Park, and start looking for somewhere to get a light dinner since lunch didn’t exactly fill us.  I’d been recommended to try La Lucha Sandwiches by a girl on the tour earlier, and so had another guy, so we decided to check them out.

Prices immediately make me groan – cheapest thing on the menu’s 16 soles – and the menu is all in Spanish, so we have to fumble along with Google Translate, but once we actually get the food brought to our table? Oh my god.

I got the roast beef sandwich, and I swear, I haven’t had meat this nice in a long time.  It’s hot, and juicy and practically melts in your mouth.  The roll is just as good, soft and ripping off without issue.  Clearly, the additional 3-4 soles marks a severe hike in quality.

We’re so happily sated from a decent meal, that when one of the group suggests going to an Irish Bar (he likes to hunt one down wherever he goes to laugh at the inaccuracies), we all go along.  As it turns out, Molly’s Irish Bar is just around the corner, and a pub quiz has just started.

Long story short, despite a few frustrating blanks and arguing with the judges regarding answers, we ended up tying for first.  Tragically, we failed the tiebreaker question (What is Donald Trumps ‘official’ golf handicap), but still came in a respectful second with a 50 sole tab – that was immediately used on 5 beers for the drinkers to celebrate with before we called it a night

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